The Kids Company web of intrigue is slowly being untangled. A report from the National Audit Office reveals that despite repeated warnings from civil servants, £46 million was given to the charity over 15 years – from the Department for Education, local councils and lottery funds. It appears there was little auditing of where these funds were being used, instead relying on Kids Company’s self assessments. The money used to prop up the charity had an impact elsewhere: in 2008, it received 20 per cent of all the grant funding available from the DfE – leaving the rest to be split among 42 other charities. And in 2011, Kids Company received more than twice the amount than any other charity.
Although the sums are huge, it was the ignored warnings that are the most troubling. The NAO ‘observed a consistent pattern of behaviour each time Kids Company approached the end of a grant term’ – its charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh would issue warnings about its future, threaten to write to ministers and strong arm the civil service into handing over more money.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, is not at all impressed at what has gone on:
‘It is unbelievable that over 13 years, taxpayers’ money has been given to Kids Company with little focus on what it was actually achieving for the children it was supporting.
‘Government repeatedly raised concerns about Kids Company’s finances but little action was taken. Despite this, government gave it further grants – funded by the taxpayer.It is unbelievable that over 13 years, taxpayers’ money has been given to Kids Company with little focus on what it was actually achieving for the children it was supporting.’
One of the most concerning aspects of money is a £3 million grant handed over in June 2015, after ministers overruled the concerns of civil servants about Kids Company — who warned it would not provide value for money. Soon after the money was granted, the Metropolitan Police began investigating the charity over allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The trustees decided to close down the charity in August and the Cabinet Office asked for repayment of £2.1 million.
This report raises many questions: why did ministers overrule civil servants in June this year, when concerns about Kids Company had been known for years? Why did successive governments kowtow to Batmanghelidjh’s demands for more money? Were they scared of her? Why was there no more thorough auditing of the charity?
Thankfully, there should be some answers coming next week. The mandarins responsible for the Kids Company spending decisions will be hauled up in front of the Public Accounts Committee on Monday. We’ll find out then how strongly politicians were leaning on the civil service to keep on writing cheques.